The recent observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court towards the functioning of media in India seem to be an urgent need of redefining and restructuring the electronic media in accordance with the constitutional values, freedom of media, individual rights and right to privacy. ‘Sensation above sense’ becomes one of the most important weapons in the hand of media owners to rig the viewer’s mind so as to get high Television Rating Point. (TRP is a tool used to know about the popularity of a program). Professionalism and ethics of media always happen to be missing aspect for the last few years as viewers themselves surrendered their preferences of news and stories based on sensation as politically motivated, ideologically inspired and iconic glamour news. Diversion of media from their core democratic responsibilities would be as inherent as their existence depends upon high rating of TRP. Nowadays, the number of electronic media showing their program in principle with truth, information, logical debating and awareness stories has been experiencing low rating of TRP leads to huge financial loss. Therefore, locating space for autonomy and freedom appears as an outrageous for media as their existence and survival always depend upon corporate and business entities leads to a floating idea of securing high TRP. This piece of writing highlights about three types of models of journalism existing in India pose a greater risk to democracy.
Aggressive model of journalism
Aggressive journalism evolved over the time as an offshoot of post-globalization when electronic media began telecasting live news into 24 hours formats. Initially, the media remained engaged in covering the news round the clock so as to make viewers convenient and make them aware of all the happiness quickly. But, with the rising number private channel after 2000, there have been a beginning of attracting the viewers towards their own channel by spreading the news quickly, pitching the stories as sensations, media trials etc so as to secure high TRP. Such type of practices in the media is glorified positively as aggressive journalism on account of free media enriched in the Constitution of India as freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 1 (a), which deals with ‘Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc. Although, at the same time, freedom of media is restricted under article 19 (2) if there have been issues related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense. A few of such cases namely, Jessica Lal case, 2010, Priyadarshini Mattoo case, 2006 and Bijal Joshi rape case, 2005, Aarushi Talwar’s Murder, 2013, very recently media trial of Rhea Chakraborty etc. were declared as guilty by the media even before the actual trial had begun. Though, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Sahara vs. SEBI (2012) strongly observed that such types of trials by the media are likely to affect the reputation of the judiciary and judicial proceedings adversely. On the one hand, a large number of media editorial teams have been covering issues in such a way that it seems like a trial leading to a high TRP, on the other hand, issues of national interest and societal importance do not get a full length coverage as viewers themselves prefers news of sensation above sense.
Journalism as ideologically inspired
Another effort towards securing a high TRP by the media happens to be brainstorming and rigging of the viewers’ mind associated themselves with any ideologies as well as political parties. Hence, coverage of news are selectively sensitized and dramatized in accordance with the political and ideological agenda so as to reach a large number of viewers. With more than 75,000 newspapers and well over a1000 satellite channels in several languages competes each other for their existence and survival, hence, political allegiance becomes an edge of media as well as an easy way of getting a high TRP from politically and ideologically inspired viewers. The ten-year period of 2009-2019 has seen such an explosion of the TRP game as leading media in India have been covering the issues accordingly a strict ideological allegiance and a steadfast commitment to a (in some cases many) political parties. The freedom of Indian media has changed significantly over the last decade as few of the media owners have direct or indirect links with politics even while some of them even represent a political party. The recent observation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court towards independent functioning of media must be viewed as a wake-up call for government as there are no regulatory safeguards against political control over the media and, at the same time, the laws of the land do not restrict political ownership in television or print media.
Journalism as a personality of news anchors
The third category of journalism, existing in India derives its TRP from the individual personalities of the news anchors as the present electronic media has evolved as news entertaining industry where TRP war is fought among the news anchors. Every news channel is highly dominated by particular news anchor who are well versed with viewers choices of news and stories. Panel discussion, debate, prime hour news program, interviews, etc. attracts a huge TRP under the lead news anchor. Hence, anchors across Indian media news channels engage in conflict, fear and tussle in order to secure a high TRP as viewers get huge entertained of the debates rather than get educated. Honesty, grit, and perseverance of the news anchors have been doubtful in the last decade as the quality of journalism emanating from news debates has been hitting new lows for a few years due to prevalence of paid news. TV debates are being organized as propaganda without a certain amount of knowledge of professional ethics of journalism. With the beginning of TRP war among the TV channel, a large majority of TV debate moves around the religion, whereas, according to a Supreme Court ruling of 1995, no news channel is supposed to mention the religion of the person especially in case of political news. Therefore, the adherence to media ethics must be strictly followed by the news anchors rather than gain popularity among the viewers.
Though, India is not a surveillance state, there must not be any kind of illegal and un-constitutional check and balance on freedom of media provided that media stick to the core principles like truth, accuracy, transparency, independence, fairness and impartiality. At the same time, there must be professionally strengthening of institutional and regulatory framework, namely the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association (NBA), PIB, etc. so as to bring Indian news media at the forefront of world ranking. Therefore, it’s high time for Indian media to prioritize truth and professionalism over TRP while covering the issue.
Dr Ahmed Raza, Assistant Professor, (MANUU) & Project Director Minor Research Project ICSSR sponsored MHRD, Govt. of India